We all know about Keyboard Cat, the video meme that swept the internet back in 2009. But long before Keyboard Cat rose to stardom with his faked playing, there was a real feline pianist and composer.
Ketzel the cat died July 13, at the very respectable age of 19, at her home on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. She was predeceased by her transcriber, retired Peabody Conservatory music professor Morris Moshe Cotel, and is survived by Cotel’s widow, Aliya Cheskis-Cotel.
The feline composer’s career began in 1996, when Cotel was sitting at his grand piano playing a prelude and fugue from a piece of classical music — something he did every morning to start his day.
But that morning was different. As Cotel was playing a prelude and fugue from Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” Ketzel, hopped onto the piano and started to play. I’m sure he was startled by the cat’s intrusion into his daily routine — but according to a story in The New York Times, he was even more surprised when he realized the accidental composition had a real structure.
Cheskis-Cotel recalls, “He said, ‘This piece has a beginning, a middle and an end. How can this be? It’s written by a cat.'”
Thus began Ketzel’s career as a classical music composer. The piece Cotel transcribed, “Piece for Piano, Four Paws,” won a special mention in 1997, when it was entered in the Paris New Music Review’s One-Minute Competition.
One of the judges in the competition said that the piece reminded them of work by Austrian composer and conductor Anton Webern, whose works were the foundation of the musical technique that came to be known as total serialism.
Although it turned out Ketzel (which means ‘cat’ in Yiddish) was a one-hit wonder, so to speak, her legacy as a classical music composer specializing in atonality lives on in “Purrfectly Classical,” a CD featuring 26 compositions related to cats.
I’m not a big fan of atonal music in any genre, but I do recognize genius when I hear it. Ketzel, the world will miss you. Congratulations on showing the world that among the cat’s many talents can also be found an astonishing musicality.